Health in a bottle?
Increasingly over the last few months I seem to be reading articles in various publications and on internet forums discussing the practice of adding supplements to the working dogs diet. There certainly seems to be an ever growing plethora of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes on offer and one could be led to believe that unless you’re giving your dog a chemical stew of various elixirs you are remiss in your care. For those with dogs that have dietary or health problems there is often a place for specific supplements but for a healthy dog with a sensible diet are they really needed? I admit that in the eighties I would routinely give the racing dogs multi-vitamin supplements, extra vitamin E and electrolytes but as the years have passed and I’ve gained confidence in my own abilities to get a dog right they’ve fallen by the wayside. This begs the question, are my dogs now suffering because I no longer routinely use these products?
There have been a number of studies on greyhounds that seem to show that high doses of vitamin E and C slowed race times, studies in humans suggest that supplementation with these antioxidant may slow muscle healing and trails with cancer patients were stopped early because those taking the vitamin were having poorer outcomes than the control groups that didn’t take them. Not a good start. There is plenty of evidence that a healthy diet has positive effects but these benefits are not being replicated by purified vitamins, it would seem that chemicals that act as antioxidants in a test tube have a different outcome in a body. VitaminB12 is another that is often promoted, it certainly has an important role to play in the body, but for a normal healthy dog there should be plenty of B12 in the diet, after all it’s plentiful in meat. Supplementation of B12 hasn’t been found to have any positive effect on a dogs exercise performance and those that routinely inject their dogs just add trauma without need.
As well as the health benefits of supplementation being unproven, even potentially harmful, there are other effects like weight gain to be considered. Creatine, along with some vitamins, is linked to weight gain in the form of water retention; in one recent article it was stated at around 7%. As a young runner I spent many an evening on the track doing 100 to 400mts sprint repeats and I know a 7% weight gain, for me around 11lb, would have a very definite negative effect after a couple of runs. Imagine the same effect on a dog during a night’s lamping; they may have over twenty ‘sprint repeats’ to get through. Creatine may give increased power over the first couple of runs but from then on it’s all down hill. For 100mt sprinters and body builders there may be a place for this product but for a multi sprint lurcher then the downside must outweigh the up.
Next we should consider the salts, commonly called “Electrolytes”, these were developed to replace what humans and horses lost through sweating, mainly sodium chloride (table salt). But the question must be asked “are dogs sweating to any extent?” I’ve not seen a sweaty dog yet so why replace what isn’t lost? Studies on working sled dogs involved in marathon competitions suggest that they don’t need additional electrolytes so if huskies undergoing these extreme events don’t need them what dog does? In fact by giving what amounts to salt water we may possibility unbalance/stress the system when it’s already playing a juggling act with these chemicals during exercise. As with B12 and Creatine, meat is a good source of electrolytes and again a good diet will supply what is needed. Some trainers may feel the need for a little extra potassium chloride and if so then occasional tinned tomatoes or banana as part of the balanced diet will bolster the intake. These will be absorbed and utilised effectively without stressing the system whilst having the benefit of adding carbohydrate for energy.
It’s not just improving work tolerance that supplementation is considered but also in an attempt to generally improve condition; traditionally this was show condition although latterly a muscular physique is often wanted. What is being lost is the idea that not all dogs are bred to carry heavy muscle or have extra shiny coats. Shine is as often as much to do with colour and texture as condition and musculature down to the amount, type of work and breeding rather than a lack of any special tonic. Big muscles weigh a lot and will slow a dog down rather than speed it up, the further it has to run the more it will be affected, it’s all down to power to weight ratio. Rather than artificially increasing muscle size it seems more sensible to allow natural development via the natural stresses of the work undertaken to lead development of a musculature that’s fit for purpose. The idea of such practices as injecting vitamin B or giving Steroids and Creatine to gain bulk seems more to do with a macho image than anything else. Perhaps a slim racy frame isn’t as fashionable as a heavy set one but on a long run my money would be on the lightly framed dog.
So in conclusion I would suggest that there are no magic formulas or short cuts, health most certainly doesn’t come out of a bottle. If you own a sound working dog that’s fed appropriately and given a sensible exercise/work regime you don’t need magic potions, success will come naturally. The balanced diet and gradually increasing work tolerance is the real key, I use a complete, around 22% protein, as a base with the addition of meat and bones, cooked vegetables, table scraps and eggs as available, this gives a good variety of nutrients that meets the needs of my dogs. Those that have success using the plethora of additives on the market have that succes in spite of rather than because of them. To my mind an extra half an hour spent exercising in the summer or checking over an animal after a night on the lamp during the winter is time well spent and defiantly better than putting in half an hour’s overtime to pay for some super tonic any day.